Phoney estate agent jailed after ten-year crime spree
Wednesday 8th December 2010
A property fraudster who set up as an estate agent and who eluded police for ten years has finally been jailed after conning more than £20m from his victims.
Dixit Shah, 49, set up over 200 companies, including at least one firm of estate agents, Hilton Properties, and – despite having been a struck-off solicitor – a legal firm employing legitimate solicitors.
He submitted false mortgage applications, lying about incomes and stealing other people’s identities, and by the time he was finally arrested, had 36 buy-to-let properties.
Detective Constable Taz Uddin, who arrested Shah, said that it was not clear how many of the bogus companies actually traded. He said of the properties that there may well have been more at some stage, with some having been repossessed or sold on.
The estate agency, in Harrow, north London, was used to provide rental information required by lenders. The fact that it could be set up at all by someone who, at the time, was being sought by police, puts the question of licensing back on the agenda.
At least one of Shah’s accomplices, Gaurav Mathur, is still on the run.
Lenders that were conned included Kensington Mortgages, which lent £238,000 in March 2007 on a property in Zangwill Road, Greenwich, south-east London, which was almost £7,000 in arrears at the end of October last year. In this application, Mathur, 38, claimed to be self-employed and have an income of between £93,000 and £95,000.
Shah used the proceeds of his decade-long campaign of crime to fund a career in Bollywood, although his dreams of stardom are now on hold after he was jailed for five and a half years at Southwark Crown Court.
Shah, from Harrow, claimed victims across the UK and Asia, with firms of solicitors, high street banks and foreign students all being targeted.
Shah’s links to the criminal underworld meant many of his victims were reluctant to assist detectives for fear of reprisals against family members.
But his past finally caught up with him this year when, after a six-month investigation by the City of London Police, two patrol officers arrested him outside a Harrow gym.
The fraudster’s business practices first came under suspicion in 1999 when the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) uncovered a £13m deficit in the joint account of a group of solicitors’ firms.
After creating the ‘Brandon Group’ Shah, 49, had put himself in charge of the collective pension funds while working from home.
By the time his partners realised the accounts had been emptied and the financial records deleted, Shah had fled to India, leaving the SRA facing one of the biggest ever payments from its compensation payouts.
Between 2000-2006 Shah ran major credit card frauds across India, Pakistan and Dubai and set up a bogus company offering students the chance to travel to the UK to learn English.
Students were handed visas and promised jobs, but were then forced to return home after finding nothing had been organised for their arrival in the UK.
At the same time Shah was lifting personal details from their application forms to facilitate his crimes.
Shah then appeared on police radars again, when he was arrested at Dublin Airport after being found in possession of fake passports and credit cards.
Detectives believe he was on his way back to the UK, forced to return after living a life of luxury and blowing his millions on failed Bollywood film productions and property deals.
After jumping bail in Ireland, Shah slipped back into London and started stealing the identities of British and Indian nationals, some of which he used to apply for fraudulent mortgages from high street banks.
His portfolio of properties, worth £9m, included new-build flats and a ten-bedroom mansion in Watford.
Shah’s crime spree continued into 2009, when authorities identified him as the man who had escaped justice ten years before and later returned to the UK via Ireland with a false identity.
The City of London Police investigation revealed how Shah had been working with organised criminal gangs in the UK and India, setting up fake estate agents, solicitors’ firms and private companies to facilitate his frauds.
The estate agency firm, Hilton Properties, was used to furnish lenders with information about rental expectations.
By the end of 2009 detectives suspected Shah was once again looking to leave the country and alerted the ports and airports.
But he was finally caught in Harrow when a pair of patrol officers spotted a Jaguar linked to him driving through the town.
Shah was not in the car, but the driver directed the officers to a nearby house, where the inhabitant pointed them towards a gym where they met and arrested the fraudster.
Searches of his lock-up and several properties uncovered a number of Bollywood scripts, evidence of Shah’s continuing attempts to become a film director.
On the premises officers also found cheque books in 70 different names and banking and property documentation.
While in remand, Shah made numerous attempts at bail, fired four sets of lawyers and attempted to represent himself. Three days into his trial he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud but later unsuccessfully attempted to reverse his plea.
Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police Economic Crime Directorate, said: “Over the last ten years, Shah has left a trail of destruction stretching from here to India, with pension fund holders, high street banks, solicitors and foreign students all suffering at his hands.
“Unfortunately for him his criminal successes were not mirrored by his forays into the world of Bollywood, where his delusion led him to lose millions.
“By bringing Shah to justice we have curtailed his career in films, and much more importantly removed a ruthless and calculated fraudster from the streets.”
Police continue to hunt for his accomplice Gaurav Mathur.
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